Lizzie continues at the Greenwich Theatre, London until 12 March.
Star rating: three stars ★ ★ ★ ✩ ✩
Nothing about this show particularly screams out ‘musical theatre.’ It’s more like a live punk rock concert with four lead singers with big voices and even bigger hair.
Lizzie is making its UK premiere, following a run in Denmark. Everything about the show seems very mainland Europe with a complete revamp to the genre and an unexpected and dangerous topic to sing about.
The piece is based on the true story of Lizzie Borden who allegedly murdered her father and stepmother in Fall River, Massachusetts in 1892.
After a range of films, plays and operas telling her story, this new production gives the tale a new punk rock look and fetishises Lizzie’s alleged involvement in the crime.
Based on an original concept by Alan Stevens Hewitt and Tim Maner, Lizzie features music by Steven Cheslik-DeMeyer and Hewitt, with lyrics by Cheslik-DeMeyer and Maner who also provides the additional music. Additional lyrics and orchestrations are by Hewitt. The show is directed by Søren Møller.
Lizzie (Bjørg Gamst) lives at home with her older sister, Emma (Eden Espinosa), her father and stepmother, but the house of Borden is a dark place with many secrets.
After years of abuse at the hands of her father and discovering that their stepmother has convinced their father to change his will, Emma and Lizzie look for a way to protect what is rightfully theirs.
Emma leaves town, unaware that her sister has now snapped completely, and it’s up to Emma, their maid Bridget (or Maggie, as the girls call her, played by Jodie Jacobs), and Alice (a neighbour, friend and admirer of Lizzie played by Bleu Woodward), to keep her secrets.
The show more resembles a concert with very little set – a chair and a couple of benches – thereby relying mostly on the songs to tell Lizzie’s story.
The band is present on both sides of the stage which adds more to the concert feel. While the four leading ladies have radio mics, creating the look and atmosphere of a rock concert, they mostly sing into handheld microphones.
The four leading ladies have the most striking powerhouse voices and their vocals are definitely the best part of this show.
However, the lyrics are often rather incoherent and the music isn’t particularly memorable. It’s easier to follow the storyline based on an expression or movement, rather than anything being sung. But even then there may be some key details in the songs that the audience is missing.
Jacobs as the maid provides the much-needed comic relief and isn’t afraid to peer beyond that fourth wall to address the audience.
Woodward’s Alice represents innocence in all of the chaos, yet she also values honesty and justice. Espinosa, in particular, dominates the stage as the fierce and protective Emma.
Gamst revives her role from the original Danish production. She superbly shows Lizzie’s journey from innocent victim to strong and fierce woman.
Maner does an excellent job in telling the story, even addressing parts of the tale that have never been proven, such as Lizzie’s abusive father or that she was a lesbian.
No stone is left unturned in this adaptation; the story is practically screamed at you for an hour and 45 minutes. It’s just a shame that most of the time it’s up to the audience to work out what is going on.
Even the climax of the show comes up a bit short. The front row is handed plastic ponchos, promising a rather dramatic, gory scene, but it seems that they could have saved on the expense.